The Space Race and Scientific Progress
An English Lanugage Arts, World History, and Unites States History lesson plan that offers students an opportunity to explore the Space Race in the context of the Cold War. Students use multimedia materials to evaluate historical events, synthesize primary and secondary sources, and create a variety of materials to demonstrate their understanding.

Today’s Activities

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Engage

Watch “Space Race, 1958: Launching America’s Era of Space Exploration.”

  • What events concerning the Space Race stood out to you?
  • Which events would you like to learn more about?

Watch this video on how space shuttles work.

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Explore

The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a geopolitical and ideological rivalry during the Cold War. This competition extended into the realms of technological development, scientific advancement, and space exploration.

Read the short historical background essay, review the lesson objective, and examine the lesson essential questions (page 1).

Review the key events of the Space Race at the Eisenhower Memorial website

Create your own timeline on a sheet of paper or use Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides. Add images and text describing each event.

Why did people want to go to outer space? Why was it important to be “first” to go to outer space?

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Explain

Review the Space Race images on pages 2-12 of the associated PDF. 

Research five of the events depicted in the images.

Print and complete the “Space Race: Master of Space during the Cold War”  (pages 13-14) handout. As an alternative, create your own table on a sheet of paper.

Which image of the space race was most interesting to you? Why? You can either write your answer or tell someone at home what your thoughts are.

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Elaborate

Using the information from your worksheet, 

  • write your own story of the Space Race in a short paragraph (250 words or less). Be sure to explain how each of your images contributed to the progression of space exploration or technological development.
  • create a poster collage with images and text explaining each or event.
  • develop a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation with relevant images, text, and embedded video clips.
  • record a VoiceThread.

Share your work with a parent, sibling, or teacher.

Watch President Eisenhower’s speech from November 7, 1957. Write some brief notes answering the following questions:

  • According to President Eisenhower, what is the relationship between scientific advancement and national security?
  • How do the president’s claims connect to the larger context of the Cold War?
  • Do you agree with President Eisenhower? Why or why not?
  • What role should the government play in progressing science?
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Extend

Visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) website. Explore the different tabs at the top of the page to learn more about the solar system and planetary bodies.

Watch NASA’s documentary on the Apollo space program.

Review NASA’s current missions on the administration’s website. Click on “Missions” at the top of the site.

Listen to the Moonrise podcast as the host describes how and why the United States visited the Moon. 

Interview a grandparent about their experiences during the Space Race. See the National Air & Space Museum website for existing oral interviews and ideas.

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In-Hand Resources

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The Space Race and Scientific Progress In Hand Packet

Teaching Tips

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Accessibility Feature

Turning on transcripts for YouTube Videos [PDF]

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Engage in Discussions

When working on learning opportunities at home, engaging in discussions about the topic is very helpful. If you are able, watch the videos with your student, and ask questions about what you see. If your student thas a question about the video or article that you do not know the answer to, look it up together online. Most learning happens from asking good questions!

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